Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Signal Watch Review: Masks & Mobsters (from MonkeyBrain Comics)



One of the great things thus far about MonkeyBrain Comics has been the wide variety of genre content coming from the publisher.  Last week saw tweaky hipster/ swords & sorcery strip Wander hit the internets.  This week MonkeyBrain rolls out Masks & Mobsters, a book that's pretty well set on the Signal Watch Venn Diagram as it's crime/ gangster comics set in a 1930's-era urban center with wiseguys starting to feel the heat from mystery men with strange powers.

The book's title page promises that this will be less of a straight narrative, issue after issue, as it announces it's an anthology title (ie: a fresh story with each issue, I'm guessing), so we'll see where the creative team is taking it from here (or if the same creative team will even stay around).


The name Joshua Williamson is new to me, but that doesn't mean a lot these days.  In the brief page count (I believe the story clocks in at about 15 pages), Williamson and artist Mike Henderson (also someone I need to get to know) use tropes of the gangster story and archetypes of the Golden Age superhero to cut the story down to the bone and get to heart of the matter, not entirely unlike the shorter punchier prose of the pulp era.

Williamson's first outing may not be nuanced as his closest genre spiritual match, Brubaker, but there are a lot of interesting ideas here as it's essentially a modern Golden Age pastiche told from the perspective of the guys on the wrong side of the Cosmic Rod.  And, as has to be the way for these stories to work, Williamson's ending sets the stage for the sort of brutal world these tough guys are living in, even as men in fanciful capes are descending on them from the night sky.



Henderson's art is a good fit, and the B&W art is a good fit for the pulp era, of course evocative of photos and films of the pre-WWII/ men-in-hats era.  Thanks to Henderson knowing how to draw different kinds of faces, as well.

After reading Hammett and some Richard Stark of late (yeah, yeah... different eras), the punchiness of crime fiction is starting to feel like a requirement.  I think Williamson does a pretty good job of making this feel like a short story with a lot at play, and a good sense of his source material.  What he chooses to do from here will be the real challenge.  But I'll be around to find out.

I had intended to talk about Bandette tonight, but I guess that'll have to wait for another night of MonkeyBrain action.  In the meantime, this book goes on sale Wednesday, July 25th at Comixology in the MonkeyBrain store.
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